“We are sorry to have detained you,” the security captain for Outpost Zaxxius says as they remove the large restraining cuffs from Sskur’ge’s wrists. “We reviewed the feeds of the room and confirmed that the story you have told, however unlikely it may have sounded, seems to be true. There was apparently another duoderm in the room who struck you. You fell and never actually attacked anyone. This means you did not violate Outpost guidelines.”
“It was NOT another duoderm!” Sskur’ge responds. “It was some kind of illusion projection made to look like me and fool your sensors!”
“Either way, you are free to leave,” the captain says, eventually adding. “And we do suggest you leave immediately. While you may not have been a perpetrator in this incident, you also did not come to Zaxxius with any good intentions in mind, so do not pretend otherwise. You may be innocent of this particular offense, but it is still time for you to exit the Outpost.”
Skkur’ge rises from his seat, towering over the security captain. He would love nothing more than to show these Outpost agents what happens to those who cross a duoderm, but that will only delay him further. His quarry has now had ample time to find transport off of Zaxxius and he needs to pick up the trail again if he hopes to cash in on the retrieval. He needs to get back to his ship.
Most travelers come to the various Outposts of Cosmerrium in order to arrange for some kind of transport, but the hubs also accommodate those with their own ships. Normally this means that travelers can come and go as they please instead of being restricted to official transport schedules. As Sskur’ge argues with the dispatch crew for the hanger where his ship is docked, he realizes that this abilty to "leave whenever you choose" is not always the case.
“What do you mean my ship is not here?” the duoderm snaps, pointing to his vehicle. “It is right there! I am looking at it! How can you tell me my ship is not here?”
“We can see it is technically here,” the Outpost’s hanger controller replies, his six eyes looking at the angry duoderm before him. “But it is not listed in our records as ever having arrived, so we cannot release it from the hanger because our records do not even have it here. Until we can sort out this issue, your ship cannot go anywhere.”
Sskur’ge pushes past the Outpost agent before his temper gets the best of him and he makes some bad decisions. He knows that this is the work of the spy. He must have altered the arrival logs somehow, knowing that it would slow Sskur’ge up even longer and give him more time to make his escape. His terrible day is getting worse and worse. He just wants to be done with this entire mess so he can get back home to Quarvum.
Ssku’rge has found a dimly lit corner of Zaxxius to cool off and gather his thoughts. There is a transmission alert waiting for him as he checks his Comm Unit. He taps a claw against the screen to play the recording. The image of his T.U.5.C.C. contract liaison appears on the screen.
“Please contact us immediately once you have apprehended the target. We are anxious to put an end to this ordeal and retrieve the information that was stolen. We await your reply.”
Another message follows the first one.
“Your delay in response had led us to assume that you have encountered troubles in the retrieval. Understanding the importance of this matter, we are sending additional hunters out to assist. The retrieval contract is now open.”
Sskur’ge curses as he deletes the message. He hates open contracts. Things get messy when other hunters get involved and there is always the risk that someone will get to the quarry first and he will be left with nothing to show for his efforts. Normally he would walk away from this job altogether, but the spy has made it personal with him. He wants to capture him for the payoff, but more than that, he wants to get his hands on that little thief and show him what happens to those who mess with Sskur’ge.
There are no further messages, so the duoderm hunter brings up a navigation planner. The spy has few places he can go. The Outpost meeting with the Bleeder’s Guild contact was supposed to allow him to offload the secrets he had stolen, but Sskur'ge made sure that meeting would not happen. He has dealt with the Bleeders enough to know that once one of their own misses a meeting and subsequently disappears, they will not send another representative in their place. Instead, they will circle their defenses thinking that they are in danger. This means that the spy will need to go to them instead, but where will he go? There are maybe half a dozen known Bleeder’s Guild check-in ports in the Fourth ring, but which one makes the most sense?
The spy is desperate, and he will be even more desperate once he discovers the expansion of the retrieval contract that the Traders Union has put out for him. Desperation means a closer port would be more likely. There are two options that make sense, both of them not far from Outpost Zaxxius. Which of those would he choose?
Sskur’ge looks at the planner again and a new possibility enters his thoughts. Perhaps the spy wouldn’t choose a nearby location? Maybe the reason he worked so hard to slow down his pursuer was because he planned to escape to a more distant Bleeder meeting point. Ssku’rge smiles as the realization comes to him. The spy was heading to Ozarra.
Located in the Third ring, Ozarra was believed to be the homebase of the Guild’s operations. It would make sense that the thief would go there with such valuable intelligence. There he would have the most resources and contacts available to him. When in times of trouble, turning to the strength of the Guild was a smarter move than choosing a weaker location that just happened to be closer. No, Ozarra had to be where he was headed!
Sskurg're looks up from where he is seated. A group of Sphexxians are milling about in the area to his left and their constant chittering is distracting him. Sskur’ge can’t stand the insectoids from V'zapir. It used to be rare that you’d run into any of their kind outside of their homeworld, but lately they seem to be everywhere and they are always in groups.
“Stop your noise!” Sskur’ge growls at the Sphexxians. They look at him and chatter in response and he remembers that the insectoids don’t have vocal capabilities that non-Sphexx can understand. Yelling at them is pointless.
The duoderm gets up from his seat and storms out of the room. It’s time for him to check on his ship anyway. Hopefully the lackeys at Zaxxius have figured out this mess and he can get on his ship and resume his chase. He cannot wait for this mess to be done, for the spy to be back in the hands of the Union, and for his asset accounts to be increased thanks to the retrieval. Then he can head back to Quarvum and make himself at home once again.
“WHERE IS MY SHIP!” Sskur’ge roars. The hanger bay where he had left his vehicle is now empty and a maintenance crew is preparing the space for their next arrival. This increasingly horrible day has somehow managed to get even worse.
“We couldn’t find an entry for your ship in our records,” the hanger controller answers, his six eyes looking down at his datapad to avoid the venomous stare of the towering duoderm before him. “But I made a manual entry and cleared the ship for departure myself. I was then called away to handle another incident. When I returned the ship was gone. I assumed you had returned to take your leave.”
“I obviously did not leave on my ship since I am standing right here and my ship is not!” Sskur’ge replies. “I want my ship found and returned to this bay NOW!”
“I am sorry,” the controller answers hesitantly. “But according to our files, someone seems to have claimed the ship and exited the Outpost with it already. It is no longer here for us to return. I could arrange for you to have a space aboard one of our own public transports – complimentary as a courtesy of Outpost Zaxxius, of course”
Sskur’ge cannot believe the turn of events. His quarry has escaped, his hunt was delayed, and now his ship and all his belongings stored aboard that ship are gone.
“It is that accursed Bleeder’s Guild spy!” he roars. “He has done this somehow! You’ve let him frame me for an offense, he has messed with my schedule, and now he flies away with my ship! What kind of outfit are you running here!”
"Oh, we run the very best Outpost in Cosmerrium!" the hanger controller says with obvious pride in his voice. "Zaxxius was actually honored with top marks by the Transportation Association of the Connected Rings just last cycle."
Sskur'ge roars, vigorously disagreeing with the "top marks" the Outpost has received.
“We understand your frustration,” the hanger controller says. “But Outpost Zaxxius is not responsible for any items left in our care. All dockings are done so with this risk in mind. It is clearly stated in the embarkment terms all pilots agree to upon landing. Do you need to review a copy of those terms?”
Sskur’ge grips his mace and brings it crashing down onto the floor of the hanger. Duoderms are not known for their patience. No good has come of this day and the mounting problems are threatening to push Sskur’ge past his limit.
“That’s enough of that,” a voice calls from behind Sskur’ge. “It’s time for you to go.”
The Outpost security captain who released Sskur’ge from his restraints just a short time ago now places a hand on the duoderm’s arm. The reptilian hunter looks behind him and sees that the officier is accompanied by a full team of armored security officers, each bearing the Zaxxius insignia on their chest and shields.
“We really are sorry for any inconveniences you have been caused,” the Outpost hanger controller says politely. “But thank you for visiting Outpost Zaxxius. Do come again soon.”
Sskur’ge’s patience snaps. He whips his thick tail outward, knocking three security officers off their feet. He brings that tail down hard, lashing one of the officers just as he turns and swings the mace in a wide arch that clears half a dozen other security officers from behind him, toppling them over and causing chaos in the hanger bay.
The hanger controller’s eyes grow wide in fear as Sskur’ge turns his attention back towards him.
“Come again soon?” the duoderm roars as he lifts his mace high over his head. "Are you kidding me? I will never come back to Zaxxius!"
The blow never lands. Two additional security patrols burst into the hanger and a heavy net is fired at the duoderm agitator.
“Outpost Rules 001 – any violence enacted within the confines of an Outpost shall be quelled immediately. Deescalate and detain.” a monotone voice broadcasts into the hanger as the security officers swarm Sskur’ge. He is caught in the net and he roars in frustration and rage.
“Shock him and drop him,” the duoderm hears one of the officers say just as he feels himself go limp, electricity racing through his body once again. He releases his grip on the mace, but it is also caught in the netting and it remains held in place as another charge courses through the strands of the netting and across Sskur’ge's body.
“I want…to go home….to Quarvum,” he mutters as his eyes flutter and he loses consciousness once again.
It has been an eventful day. The hanger controller at Outpost Zaxxius cannot remember so much commotion ever happening during one of his shifts. The number one rule of all the Outposts is that no violence of any kind is tolerated. Most travelers heed this simple rule, and in truth, most days at Zaxxius are boring and routine. Not today.
The controller looks at the datapad. It was certainly an usual turn of events with the duoderm’s ship not being on their manifest, and then suddenly being stolen, supposedly by some spy that he seemed to blame for his troubles. It was quite a mess.
The hanger controller scrolls through the entries for the day and something catches his eyes. It is a log entry, but the numbers are wrong. He realizes that the embarkment pattern they use for all entries is missing a number in this instance and he wonders how he missed that mistake previously.
The agent taps the entry, already suspecting what he will find. The data loads and his suspicions are confirmed – it is the log for the duoderm’s ship. The reason it did not show up on the records was because the entry was incorrectly formatted. A simple oversight, probably made by someone newly employed at Outpost Zaxxius.
He expands the entry and runs a trace on the vehicle. It was moved from the hanger bay to a temporary holding platform, standard procedure for when a ship’s provenance cannot be identified. The agent accesses the vid-feed from the platform and confirms that the ship is still safely parked there.
So the duoderm hunter was wrong. This wasn’t all the work of some shadowy spy who he believed had it out for him. It was a simple mistake and misunderstanding on the part of Outpost Zaxxius. Somehow, the agent doesn’t think the duoderm will appreciate the discovery of this information and how the mistake led to what turned out to be a very bad day for him indeed. Right now that thuggish brute is probably still in a holding cell sleeping off the shock-blasts he received. He will eventually be remanded to the Edgehounders and they will take him to face justice for his violation of Outpost rules.
The mistake was definitely regrettable, but the violent actions of the duoderm were his own, and there really was no cause for that. The reality is that altering others to the truth of the matter will just create more confusion and datafilings. There is also the possibility that the hanger controller would likely need to face the duoderm once again in order to convey an official apology on behalf of the Outpost. He remembers the fear he felt when he thought that the thug's mace was about to crash into his head. He finds himself not wanting to have to look into the eyes of that brute ever again.
The hanger controller returns to the main data screen and finds the original entry for Sskur’ge’s ship. He deletes the entry and all associated records. The ship will now be a ghost, meaning it will eventually be moved from the temporary platform to the deep holding bays where many other vehicles sit abandoned and forgotten.
The datapad clicks closed and the controller happily realizes that the excitement of the day’s events have made his shift go by rather quickly. It is time for him to leave, so he makes his way towards the staff quarters for Outpost Zaxxius. He approaches the heavy doors leading out of the hanger, above which is a sign the likes of which can be found throughout Zaxxius. It is a list of Outpost rules. At the top of that list, in bold letters, are the words: “Rule 001 – Any violence shall be quelled immediately. Situations shall be deescalated and perpetrators shall be detained.”
The hanger controller finds himself wondering what happens to violators of this rule once the situation is deescalated and they are detained. Nothing good, he imagines, deciding that it is best not to think of such unpleasant things.
Published on 03.16.23